Discussions for Peacebuilding: Peace, Justice and Violence in Sacred Texts

interfaith discussions for peacebuilding

Discussions build interfaith understanding

At Hartford Seminary, students engage in interfaith dialogue on a regular basis. Sometimes this means having difficult discussions about conflicts and events that have happened to and within different faith communities throughout history.

A new course that will be offered in the Spring of 2022 called Peace, Justice, and Violence in Sacred Texts focuses on the study and discussion of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptural texts that are related to peace, justice, and violence, in their socio-historical contexts. The course will be co-taught by Dr. Hans Harmakaputra, Visiting Assistant Professor in Comparative Theology and Muslim-Christian Relations, and Dr. Suheil Laher, Faculty Associate in Qur’anic Studies.

Examining different perspectives for a deeper understanding 

Dr. Harmakaputra explains that students should leave the course with the following awareness: “understand where other people are coming from, interact with them on a compassionate human level, avoid stereotypes and become aware of one’s own biases.”

Students will examine case studies and look directly to the scriptural texts that have been used by different people or groups, either to promote violence and injustice or to promote peaceful relations and justice in these contexts. They’ll investigate how texts from all three Abrahamic traditions can and have been used to legitimatize violent conflict through real-world examples like empires, religious persecution, colonialism, misogyny, racism and Anti-Semitism. They will also explore how these texts can and have been used to promote peace movements, provision of care for the poor and sick by religious orders and communities, peaceful coexistence and cooperation with religious and ethnic others, and liberation and justice movements.

Empathy and trust guide healthy discourse

A key challenge of this course will be maintaining an environment that encourages open communications and for students and instructors to be wary of offending others without sacrificing productive dialogue.

“We are envisioning setting up ground rules for classroom discussion and having students discuss these rules. This, together with ice-breaking activities should help students to get to know and trust one another. We also realize that as co-instructors, we have a responsibility for setting a good example,” explains Dr. Harmakaputra.

What students learn in this course should lead them to be forces for peace and positive change in their communities, societies, and the world – and should position them with the empathy, sensitivity and knowledge to discuss sensitive topics that impact the world today, as well as historical conflicts.  

Being the ripple to lasting change

The issue of violence being legitimized by sacred texts is a multi-faceted problem that does not appear to have an easy solution. “Sacred texts are one ingredient in a complex mix that also involves historical, socio-economic, and cultural elements,” adds Dr. Harmakaputra.

By educating students to see these complexities and discuss differing perspectives with empathy and sensitivity, we foster leaders who can guide us to peaceful resolutions. That being said, it all happens one step at a time. Dr. Harmakaputra explains, “We need to start by being sources for positive interactions (and change when possible) within our own circles, even if this is just a drop in the ocean. If we get a critical mass of well-informed, sincere people, particularly if some of them are in leadership positions, then the hope is that bigger changes will start to happen.”The hard conversations can be some of the most rewarding. Students in our MA in Peacebuilding program, and all Hartford Seminary programs for that matter, graduate with a respect for interfaith dialogue, serving diverse communities, and applying their knowledge in a way that is relevant to the issues we face in today’s world. This allows for peaceful approaches to conflict resolution that take into account the complexities of multiple perspectives.